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New battle lines drawn as Brexit enters endgame

PUBLISHED: 19:03 15 November 2018 | UPDATED: 07:30 16 November 2018

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement on the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons, London.

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement on the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons, London.

PA Wire/PA Images

The battle now is between the ideologues and the pragmatists.

At the end of a tumultuous week in Westminster yet another battle line has been drawn.

We already had the traditional – almost cosy in these baffling times – Conservative and Labour, then we added an ever-more pronounced left and right and now, of course, the Leavers and their arch enemies the Remainers.

And amid all that chaos we have those driven and obsessed by their own ideologies and the politicians who are desperately trying to keep their heads.

Theresa May’s Brexit deal is a long way from perfect. It is not perfect for her party, the opposition, the European Union or the country at large.

Many are furious about the Irish backstop, about the closeness to the EU regarding the customs union about how the UK stands to be forced to swallow Europe’s rule changes without a voice around the table.

But let us look more closely at exactly what the prime minister has been asked to deliver. The public voted to leave the EU but no-one voted to damage our economy. The simple fact is this: To breakaway from our largest trading partner and expect no period of economic turmoil is naive.

The Brexiteers want to end freedom of movement. Unless of course we need immigrants to perform vital tasks. Where exactly do we draw that line? Almost everyone is agreed there should be no hard border in Ireland. But how can that be the case if Ireland is to be in a different jurisdiction? Brexit has become a huge contradiction. When former foreign secretary Boris Johnson wildly claimed the UK could “have its cake and eat it” he was wrong. Very wrong.

This was always going to hurt.

It was always going to send a shudder down CEOs’ spines.

Brexit was never – despite what some ministers claimed – going to be easy.

Whether the pain will be worth it or not is yet to be seen. Will the cure actually hurt more – for a period at least – than the aliment?

It is not for this columnist or newspaper to judge its readers on the decision they made. Whether you put a cross in the box to Leave or Remain matters not as long as that decision was made with a clear head and not under duress.

There have been furious rows about whether the public was well informed enough in the run-up to the 2016 referendum. There was a lot of naughty politics in play from both sides and no-one came out of that bruising battle unscathed.

But the truth was there. The ability to make an informed decision existed amid the bluster and hot air. And the UK made its choice.

Mrs May was handed the keys to Number 10 and the most brutal political hospital pass in history. Is it any wonder David Cameron scarpered away so quickly to spend time in his shed?

Whatever you think of Mrs May it cannot be denied that she has fought tooth and nail to deliver under what must be almost unbearable stress. If stoicism is her only legacy it is one she can be quietly pleased with.

But now a large part of her job is done. Yes she has many more battles to fight – to promote her Brexit deal, save her job and to keep the Labour party at bay.

But now the anguished soul-searching squarely falls on the shoulders of our elected members. Are they ideologues or pragmatists?

The ideologues want either to stay in the EU (the extreme Remainers) or leave without a deal (the hard Brexiteers). In the middle of those not insignificant groupings sit the pragmatists. Those are the politicians Mrs May so desperately needs right now.

Having a referendum in the first place was a sign that politics had failed. We elect MPs every five years or so to be our representatives. Referendums prove only that they have failed in their duty to do just that.

And as it stands the failures continue. Instead of working as a collective to deliver on the – please do excuse me for using this now tired phrase – “will of the people” plenty of our elected representatives welcomed the chaos as a way to drive their ideologies and careers forwards.

Many have little concern about the impact a second referendum would have on this country. Others have no worries about the economic damage a no-deal Brexit might wreak on families with low incomes – the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg have never had to worry about where the children’s lunch money is coming from.

It is in the county’s interests that must come first now. Our politicians must put the people front and centre.

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